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nightguard

Lengthy Critique of Academagia Year One

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First of all, while this is a critique, I want to preface this by saying I have enjoyed this game greatly. I sincerely want to see this game continue on to become a successful franchise, able to release all five 'episodes' that were originally concieved.

 

With that said, I have been finding myself rather reluctant to begin a new game lately. I've thought a bit about why that is, and I've come to the conclusion that despite what the game does well, there are two major points where I feel it is particularly weak. These two areas are immersion and emotional investment. While there has been some talk about the immersion aspects, and how the UI has been a bit of a hindrance in that regard, I would like to focus first and foremost on the issue of emotional investment.

 

In this game, the player is given the opportunity to make what they will out of their first year at the Academagia. There's certainly nothing wrong with that choice. It gives the player a sense of freedom and the opportunity to explore the various nooks and crannies that the writers and designers have built into their world. Unfortunately, with a protagonist that is largely 'tabula rasa', there is little for the player to latch onto emotionally in order to empathize with the character. In many traditional RPGs where this is also true, this is overcome through a strong secondary cast that the player can empathize with and care about.

 

This is one area where I believe Academagia has failed. With a supporting cast of over 90 characters (when you count the fully realized students and teachers), you don't have a real chance to really get to know and come to care about any one of them. You may encounter a given student only once in random events in the game, and unless you go on that student's adventure, that will be the extent of your interaction with the character. For the rest of the game, while the computer is processing all their actions, they wind up being little more than window dressing.

 

Meanwhile, if you decide that you really are interested in one of the supporting cast members, you can certainly use actions to interact with them, but the interaction is very shallow, limited to just choosing options from a menu, or following the above-mentioned adventure path. While this certainly matches the implementation of everything else in the game, it really prevents you from getting to know about the character and coming to care about them. You also don't have much more chance of encountering them in random events, except for those students that have a few more unlockable encounters having a slightly higher chance of being selected for events, simply because they have more entries for the RNG to pick.

 

I don't know that much can be done about this in 'Episode One', but I believe there is potential for great improvement come Year Two. Let me use an example to try and make my suggestion clear. In Scion, characters with powerful destinies (read, among other examples, the protagonists) inevitably draw other characters into a metaphysical orbit around them. The more they interact with a person or group, the more that person or group shows up around the character when significant events happen. Something of this nature could be used in Academagia as well, giving characters that the player has chosen to interact with a higher chance of appearing as the 'random actor' in events, or better yet, giving the system a higher chance of selecting random events where that student or teacher is a featured player.

 

Another aspect that would increase the player's emotional investment in the game is introducing a genuine adversary. While the game supports the possibility of one (or more) of the other students becoming your character's rival, the way this plays out is about as thin as the socialization with other students mentioned above. Worse, there is a distinct possibility that no student will become your character's rival, removing one of the few sources of a genuine adversary from the equation.

 

Mind you, I'm not saying there should necessarily be a genuine villain that the character needs to oppose or anything like that, but I feel there should be a significant, recurring, and most importantly, personal opponent for the character. The most memorable heroes often have the most memorable opposition, after all; ones that are as multi-faceted as the protagonist themselves. As mentioned above, a classmate rival is a good source for an antagonist, but teachers and mentors can be just as useful in this regard. Many good stories can come about from a student repeatedly trying (and failing) to gain the approval of a particularly renowned mage.

 

Again, the reason I push so strongly for the inclusion of such a character ties back to the nature of this game as a type of story. If you were to read a novel in which there is no antagonist at all, would you be satisfied by the story? In a few occasions this is possibly, but in virtually all cases of novels set in a mythical reality, it's a given that the protagonist will need to oppose someone on some level. The failure to provide this personal opposition can actually be quite frustrating to most readers.

 

The last point I want to cover in the area of emotional investment is the matter of significant choice. I won't deny that Academagia gives players plenty of choices. In fact, some may go so far as to call this game a case of 'option overload', but I'm referring to something a little more narrowly defined.

 

Many of the choices in Academagia are made 'blind'; that is, you don't know where you will be going when you make your choice. You could train one subskill or another, you could advance one research topic or another, and you don't know what you will get when you finish. Given that the emphasis of Academagia is on exploration and discovery of the world, there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does have a tendency to detract from the player's perceived significance of their choices.

 

A more frustrating situation arises during the adventures and some of the random events that occur. The only real choice the player is given is what skill/attribute combination they want to use for the encounter's success test. If the player succeeds on the test, congratulations, collect your reward or move on to the next scene of the adventure. If the player fails, they get a few bumps and bruises, and in the case of an adventure, they have to try again before they can move on. In many ways, this can ultimately be perceived as an 'illusion of choice'.

 

Significant choice means that the player should be able to change not just the skill test involved, but the actual outcome of the encounter. We've seen many good examples of this in the community submitted events, and a number of them do exist in the game, but this is something that should really be emphasized when creating new events and adventures. In fact, if it's possible to have the adventures be branching storylines based on the player's choices instead of a linear plot that the player progresses along when they pass their tests, this will give the player a much greater level of investment in the choices that they are making.

 

Pulling the three points above together (characters the player cares about, adversaries for the player to oppose, and choices that have real meaning and significance), I started thinking whether any or all of these could be implemented well right in the current build and game engine of Academagia. To be honest, some of this is already being done, in particular with the various character friendship adventures. Still, I believe that with a bit of writing by either the official dev team or a group of dedicated modders, all of these aspects can be developed to a much greater level than we see currently in the game. One example I would like to suggest is the introduction of a number of 'rival adventures'.

 

Here is what I am proposing in regards to a rival adventure. When your relationship with a given student (or possibly even with a given teacher, if anyone wants to see these created), a new adventure unlocks with that character, just like a high relationship unlocks a friendship adventure. This new adventure, however, sees the character and his potential rival butting heads more and more frequently. Towards the end of the adventure, the player could be given a real, meaningful choice: offer the 'olive branch' to their rival and try to reconcile their antagonism, or essentially declare their rivalry. These choices would both be untested choices, and each one would lead to either a conclusion right in that adventure, or lead to separate final scenes of the adventure.

 

Mind you, the suggestion in the paragraph above is only one way in which I feel that Academagia Year One could expand to build a deeper level of emotional involvement from the player. There are a number of other methods that could be used, many of which I feel could similarly be implemented right in the game engine as it stands now. With the future games still in the conceptual/early development stages, I would hope to see some additional consideration given to this type of 'hook' at the outset.

 

As I said, this issue of emotional investment is just one of the points I felt was important to address. I also want to address issues of game immersion, but that could take just as long as this essay, and I hope there is more than enough here to spark some constructive conversation.

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nightguard;

 

Excellent critique! While we, as may be expected, differ in opinions in some areas, we appreciate the thought and passion that went into writing this!

 

I could write for hours on the topics raised in this essay (in fact, I started to!), but as one of the developers, I'd prefer to hear what the Players have to say about these decisions and outcomes. ;)

 

Thanks again for raising this topic- it should be a fascinating discussion. :)

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I can agree with many of the OPs points, I do agree its had alot more the "Sandbox" feel then true RPG. For instance, I thought it was insanely difficult to form friendships and cliques, nine out of ten times I'd find Befriend fail even with formidable beguile skills. I do wish it were easier to make friends so you can learn more about them, and they'd feel like they were friends. It did seem all your friends were, are extra stats for you to sacrifice as their sole purpose, but largely it seemed to not make a big difference, I'd love to see them become 'lifelike' in the future. It would also be interesting to learn more about the professors i agree, perhaps they could each have their own 'random adventure' sort that takes place during class so you can better know who they are.

 

Also I do agree on the villain front. It would be pretty interesting to have your own Voldemort or sorts, perhaps the Pirate leader whom becomes a character of sorts through news, or missions that involve helping the guards or the pirates.

 

Overall, I think more characterization would be a great thing, especially as its hinted in later years Dating other students becomes allowed (I believe i read in-game somewhere it said "Academagia does not allow dating for another few years"). For such a relationship to work later, on, I think other characters need to be more 'alive'. But until then I think friendships could use work, I never really felt like I had friends, even though i had a clique until the end of the game briefly, when your friends knock on your door.

 

Again, I understand some people like Sandbox RPG play, but I think for the good of the series as a RPG/Life Sim, the option should be there for those who do want to experience a more social aspect by getting to know these characters. Which I suspect would be a good lot of people, in my personal opinion.

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Regarding the blind choice, I have to agree. As a fully enrolled student, I should be able to know what kind of final magical Major the collage will eventually lead me into and at least able to see what the classes next year will offer to plan accordingly. For example, I plan to learn Song Glamour and I only blindly know that it require Music and Glamour, but it is a song so maybe I need voice skill and maybe Eluman or some grammar language too?

 

Regarding the supporting cast, I would rather the game put greater emphasis on your friendship within your friend in collage and clique than random student unless it is picking best relation for best friend and worst relation for rival. A collage or clique adventure where the theme is about unity and some heartwarming moment getting in/out of trouble would be great on the emotional attachment of the player.

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Overall, I think more characterization would be a great thing, especially as its hinted in later years Dating other students becomes allowed (I believe i read in-game somewhere it said "Academagia does not allow dating for another few years"). For such a relationship to work later, on, I think other characters need to be more 'alive'. But until then I think friendships could use work, I never really felt like I had friends, even though i had a clique until the end of the game briefly, when your friends knock on your door.

 

Again, I understand some people like Sandbox RPG play, but I think for the good of the series as a RPG/Life Sim, the option should be there for those who do want to experience a more social aspect by getting to know these characters. Which I suspect would be a good lot of people, in my personal opinion.

 

Maybe the individual student adventures should become automatic events instead of separate adventures provided the student is in your clique? (ie, every week he/she is in your clique, you try to progress the adventure)

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Maybe the individual student adventures should become automatic events instead of separate adventures provided the student is in your clique? (ie, every week he/she is in your clique, you try to progress the adventure)

With some control on the player side, how about it automatically start the event when the relationship reach rank 10.

 

Edit: We still can trigger it normally of course.

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The adventures are quite difficult! The majority of options in them are red or purple. Starting them automatically would kind of suck... And then if you fail the last adventure in the chain, you generally don't get to retry.

 

That idea would only be thrilling to me if some kind of low-difficulty adventures mod were released.

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I didn't find it hard to make friends, I started my clique in week 3 with befriend skill 0 and charm 1 using the Great Hall for the 10% chance bonus. I found chosing the right people to befriend helps. I've completed the school year with 3 different characters and had between 4 and 8 people in my clique. And as for and adversary I would get bullied once or twice a week which was getting rediculous. Eventually stopped with about 6 weeks left in the school year but I had to learn how to play hardball and dish it out for a few days in a row for a few weeks before that finally happened.

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And as for and adversary I would get bullied once or twice a week which was getting rediculous.

You are just unlucky or maybe you are in Durand and Aranaz really hate you guys and vice verse. :wacko:

 

I only gotten bully like 8 times or less in a whole year with the traitor and bitter rival background with 1 charm, so you must had done something that make you stand out or you just become some bullies favorite target because you never fight back or increase the relationship to reduce the chance of getting bullied.

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You are just unlucky or maybe you are in Durand and Aranaz really hate you guys and vice verse. :wacko:

 

I only gotten bully like 8 times or less in a whole year with the traitor and bitter rival background with 1 charm, so you must had done something that make you stand out or you just become some bullies favorite target because you never fight back or increase the relationship to reduce the chance of getting bullied.

i didn't fight back the first couple of times but then I started veiling that didn't help, started hitting back with tail of the comet that didn't help until i did it 3 days in a row to give the culprit a day off in the infirmary. I did that 3 weeks in a row then the bullying stopped. I think I just got unlucky and started with the wrong girl from Morvidus to be -5 relationship.

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i didn't fight back the first couple of times but then I started veiling that didn't help, started hitting back with tail of the comet that didn't help until i did it 3 days in a row to give the culprit a day off in the infirmary. I did that 3 weeks in a row then the bullying stopped. I think I just got unlucky and started with the wrong girl from Morvidus to be -5 relationship.

Oh yeah, you ARE unlucky. Morvidus is full of bullies! You could say they are the collage of bully. They are the first thing you don't want to mess with before Aranaz. Now you know why the background give you one free point.

 

Forgot to mention last time, if you were to duel someone and win, that person will be force under a geas to never use any hostile action on you for the rest of the year.

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Does hurting the bullies back really stop them from bothering you?

If you can't overwhelm them, then it will actually make it worst. Then again, everyone have different A.I. so it really is best to just raise relationship.

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I dont know what I did, but being an Aranaz student, some time around midyear alot of the bullying stoped, and in fact most of the bullys where coming to ME for help. Like Joana and Philip or whatever his name is being the two the stand out. I didnt bully them or anyone and the only thing i can really recall doing was going on alot of adventures. My grades werent even at the top of the class or anything. So I cant say for sure what it was, but suddenly I had encounters where they wanted my help and then they stopped bullying me, it was pretty weird.

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Hmm...my guess is your friends taken care of them for you or you gained quite a lot of glory.

 

And Aranaz have the reputation as the collage for "A" student after all, regardless of how bad you are.

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Another possibility, especially if it occurred around midyear, is that bullies began to fail against you. If they fail too much or too often, they will often cease to bully while they Train up their Bully Skills and/or select another Target. They love the easy prey. :(

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Wow. I don't think it's actually possible for me to agree with this post any more. In fact, I registered mostly just to say that.

 

It's been a few months since I went through the game (I believe I picked it up on sale through Impulse), but I do recall feeling many of the same frustrations that you expressed. (Despite the fact that, like you, I truly enjoyed the game).

 

I would also point out that it took me playing through two times just to get a decent grasp of most of the game's options. A steep learning curve isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it presents a few problems:

 

The focus of the game is primarily achieving high test scores. It can certainly be argued that the sandbox nature of the game leaves it up to the player what goals he or she wishes to attain, but the test scores are the only real way the game is measuring your success, and as a result, it's what most players are probably aiming for. The problem here, of course, is that in your first playthrough of the game, (provided you don't do a lot of searching online for tips) it's likely that even if you spend every single one of your actions attempting to raise your academic results, you'll only achieve middling test results at the end of the year. It wasn't until my second game that I even cast a spell, and my third game before I had enough understanding of the way spells and phemes worked to use spells to boost my test results. Being forced to play through the game more than once in order to achieve a measure of success seems a bit harsh, though I'm uncertain how to get around this. Perhaps a more complete tutorial to introduce players to most of the basic, and some of the advanced options that may become available to them.

 

The real problem to me, though, is that the way the game is designed is forcing you to do one of two things: either choose between exploring the game's social aspects, adventures, etc, or getting your education; or spend a couple of games learning to min-max and game the system to maximize every single one of your actions, so you (hopefully) have time for both.

 

I do recall, while playing through the game, that I wished most days gave you a 'free' action that could only be used for socializing, and perhaps a 'free' adventure action once every week.

 

Other than that, I'd suggest giving alternative success routes by tracking other player results - who had the most or best relationships with students or teachers? Who had the strongest clique? Did the player complete any adventures that gained him or her significant respect? Perhaps certain conditions could be met that would permit a student to continue on to Year 2 even with lousy test scores. There's plenty of other possibilities, of course, but I'd probably have to play through the game again to think of some of them. And, again, it's been a while - perhaps some of these things are already tracked and reported upon completion of the game.

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For me its how many adventures I get through and the number of skills that I brought to 10 or more that makes up the success of on play trough so the opinions are differnet about this. Sure the endterm Score somehow also have it relevance but its enough for me to be bether then the NPCs :(.

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That gives me an idea : there should be a way to say "I really really really want to succeed at that", giving you a bonus and costing you stress and/or endurance. Or you could even get temporary degrade of skills/stats.

 

Another thing : Ethical choices. Sometimes I'd like to have choices that ethically matter. I could try to do things for "nothing", or maybe i'd like to get great reward for what I've done.

 

About clique. Il like to play solitary characters. I've played a dozen games (with 5 or 6 as complete playthrough. I always play in "real" mode : only saving when I need to go to eat) and I've never got more than 3 people in my clique. Clique shouldn't be a matter of quantity but quality. In the report I can see what my cliquemate have done. But I don't really care about that. I'd prefer fluff things or lore things about them ("Visconia recieved a letter from her parents. Should she answer to them ? Even after what they've done to her ?")

 

I've played a rpg (maybe breath of fire ? It was a old one) where when you camped, you got some "tales" between the teammates. Something like that each week would be really good. I doesn't have to be long written, it need to add details to clique mate.

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Wow. I don't think it's actually possible for me to agree with this post any more. In fact, I registered mostly just to say that.

 

It's been a few months since I went through the game (I believe I picked it up on sale through Impulse), but I do recall feeling many of the same frustrations that you expressed. (Despite the fact that, like you, I truly enjoyed the game).

 

I would also point out that it took me playing through two times just to get a decent grasp of most of the game's options. A steep learning curve isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it presents a few problems:

 

The focus of the game is primarily achieving high test scores. It can certainly be argued that the sandbox nature of the game leaves it up to the player what goals he or she wishes to attain, but the test scores are the only real way the game is measuring your success, and as a result, it's what most players are probably aiming for. The problem here, of course, is that in your first playthrough of the game, (provided you don't do a lot of searching online for tips) it's likely that even if you spend every single one of your actions attempting to raise your academic results, you'll only achieve middling test results at the end of the year. It wasn't until my second game that I even cast a spell, and my third game before I had enough understanding of the way spells and phemes worked to use spells to boost my test results. Being forced to play through the game more than once in order to achieve a measure of success seems a bit harsh, though I'm uncertain how to get around this. Perhaps a more complete tutorial to introduce players to most of the basic, and some of the advanced options that may become available to them.

 

The real problem to me, though, is that the way the game is designed is forcing you to do one of two things: either choose between exploring the game's social aspects, adventures, etc, or getting your education; or spend a couple of games learning to min-max and game the system to maximize every single one of your actions, so you (hopefully) have time for both.

 

I do recall, while playing through the game, that I wished most days gave you a 'free' action that could only be used for socializing, and perhaps a 'free' adventure action once every week.

 

Other than that, I'd suggest giving alternative success routes by tracking other player results - who had the most or best relationships with students or teachers? Who had the strongest clique? Did the player complete any adventures that gained him or her significant respect? Perhaps certain conditions could be met that would permit a student to continue on to Year 2 even with lousy test scores. There's plenty of other possibilities, of course, but I'd probably have to play through the game again to think of some of them. And, again, it's been a while - perhaps some of these things are already tracked and reported upon completion of the game.

That perspective of the game only measuring you on your grades, so you only play for your grades, is something I'm hoping a little more emotional investment in the characters around you would help move the game away from. If you really cared about the other people in your college or clique, I can definitely see the player making the choice, "I really *should* study, but [student] needs my help in resolving something... Which is more important to me?"

 

The way I see Academagia, there are three ways to enjoy the game: The first is the strategic challenge of getting through the year with the 'best' scores you can, either in your grades, or in whatever skills you personally value. The second is the exploration aspect, seeing what there all is in this school to learn and see and do. The third is the narrative experience, where you play through the game to see the story of your character and the people around you. I really feel this game can do much more to promote that third gameplay experience.

 

Personally, I don't feel that there needs to be any more 'free time' to complete anything. The limited amount of time you have, which you can decide how to spend, is actually one of the places where the game does a good job of giving the player meaningful choice. Again, it's a decision of "What is more important to me." In fact, you can always choose to spend time that you should be at class doing other things, but there's always the risk of detention if you do that too much. Adding more time, particularly time where you're restricted as to how you use it, would lessen the significance of those choices.

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I think a 'social actions' action doesn't really sound like a bad idea. I mean really, if one is the type of person to tell anecdotes, one doesn't spend a third of one's day thinking up good anecdotes to tell, and gossips often gossip between other activities (rather than making it an essential part of their life).

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That gives me an idea : there should be a way to say "I really really really want to succeed at that", giving you a bonus and costing you stress and/or endurance. Or you could even get temporary degrade of skills/stats.

 

Another thing : Ethical choices. Sometimes I'd like to have choices that ethically matter. I could try to do things for "nothing", or maybe i'd like to get great reward for what I've done.

 

About clique. Il like to play solitary characters. I've played a dozen games (with 5 or 6 as complete playthrough. I always play in "real" mode : only saving when I need to go to eat) and I've never got more than 3 people in my clique. Clique shouldn't be a matter of quantity but quality. In the report I can see what my cliquemate have done. But I don't really care about that. I'd prefer fluff things or lore things about them ("Visconia recieved a letter from her parents. Should she answer to them ? Even after what they've done to her ?")

 

I've played a rpg (maybe breath of fire ? It was a old one) where when you camped, you got some "tales" between the teammates. Something like that each week would be really good. I doesn't have to be long written, it need to add details to clique mate.

Actually, there is an option to 'overwork' for an additional chance of success at a task. At least, there was last time I played. It's not made very obvious, but in activites that use a success test, you can choose to 'spend' a number of stress to get a bonus on your test. Sometimes that's the only way I've been able to add people to my clique.

 

As far as ethical choices, I believe Legate and team were doing everything they could to try and encourage the player (and by association, the character) to make ethical choices in all of the events. True, there were some where you could try something underhanded, but success in that avenue didn't necessarily give you any greater rewards than success through any of the other options. Given that there isn't any long-term tracking of good/evil in Year One, I can understand that decision. It has been implied, however, that they may change the model in year two in that regard. We will just have to wait and see.

 

Your comment about the camp stories (I don't know if they did that in BoF, but I know I've seen several other games that have done that) actually reminded me of something else I wanted to suggest later on as an element of game immersion, as does the comment about the rumor reporting. I'll be posting that within the next week or so, if you happen to be interested reading yet another wall of text.

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Actually, if you look at the Adventures in the Mod Tools, some of them do track whether the player is good or evil!

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Actually, if you look at the Adventures in the Mod Tools, some of them do track whether the player is good or evil!

I had no idea. Then again, I've never fired up the mod tools to see exactly what's going on under the hood. I'm going by the general, in game experience.

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